President Joe Biden spoke a lot about saving democracy on the midterm campaign trail but has been mostly silent about a concrete bipartisan reform designed to avoid a repeat of 2020’s aftermath.
Congressional leaders from both parties have expressed support throughout 2022 for reforming the Electoral Count Act, a vaguely worded bill from 1887 that former President Donald Trump exploited in the run-up to Jan. 6.
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“They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, brutally attacking law enforcement, not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots,” Biden said during one of many speeches outlining threats to democracy. “And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.”
But Biden didn’t mention that the mob and its activities have also helped spur action in the Senate aimed at making such an effort more difficult to repeat.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act in August. Its sponsors included nine Republicans, who were later joined by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), giving the bill potentially filibuster-proof GOP support.
A wide coalition of groups has come out in support as well, including the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Center for American Progress.
“It’s extremely important for this to pass,” said Michael Thorning, director of governance at BPC. “We’ve learned there are real weaknesses in the system we have for confirming the outcome of a presidential election. There’s no reason to have those around for any longer than is necessary.”
Yet the White House, which has made threats to democracy a pillar of its midterm messaging, has not mentioned the Electoral Count Act at all since Feb. 7, which was the last time a reporter asked about the legislation by name during a press briefing.
White House officials at the time said Electoral Count Act reform should not be used as a substitute for the voting bills they were promoting, which conservatives blasted as a federal takeover of elections and ultimately went nowhere in Congress.
“Obviously, we have said many times that the Electoral Count Act, while we support the effort, is not a replacement for voting rights legislation for a range of reasons,” then-press secretary Jen Psaki said in February.
Calls to pass Electoral Count Act reform are now circulating again now that the midterm elections are over and Trump is running again.
“We will attempt to negotiate with the Republicans in the Senate as well as with the House,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) told the Washington Post on Nov. 4. “At some point though, we need to vote. We have to get this done by the end o the year. We don’t want to go into the presidential election year without this settled.”
In the same story, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House majority leader, outlined some sticking points in negotiations, saying the current iteration “does not go far enough” and is not precise enough but adding that he felt it was “absolutely essential” to pass it in order to keep the next election from being stolen.
The White House did not respond to questions from the Washington Examiner about Biden’s support for Electoral Count Act reform.
The legislation, led by centrist Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), is aimed at reforming the Electoral Count Act of 1887 by clarifying “ambiguous provisions” on the vice president’s role in overseeing the process of certifying an election. Then-President Trump and his allies used that ambiguity to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to reject certain states’ electors in a bid to overturn the 2020 election, which eventually led to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
The reform would also raise the threshold for objecting to certification from a single representative and a single senator to 20% of the members of both chambers. While 2020 is most notable, such objections have been raised in four of the last six presidential elections.
Ironically, the original Electoral Count Act was signed into law by Grover Cleveland, whom Trump now hopes to emulate as the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms.
But Collins pointed out that some calls to reject election results have come from Democrats, with House members objecting to the certification of Electoral College wins by Trump and George W. Bush.
The Biden administration has also faced questions about its willingness to accept Democratic election losses. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was pressed in September on her history of undermining faith in democracy, having said on Twitter that the 2016 presidential election and 2018 Georgia governor’s race were each stolen.
“The first question you have to answer is, do you want to continue to use democracy as a partisan weapon, or are you genuinely concerned about accomplishing some sort of consensus reform?” said Honest Elections Project Executive Director Jason Snead. “If it’s the former, the [Electoral Count Act] doesn’t advance your purpose, and I think that lays bare the way that many folks on the Left are thinking about this issue.”